Repository logo

Net percolation as a function of topographic variation in a reclamation cover over a saline-sodic overburden dump



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title




Degree Level



Surface mining of oil sands in northern Alberta requires stripping of saline-sodic shale overburden, which is typically placed in large upland overburden dumps. Due to the chemical nature of this shale, engineered soil covers must be constructed over the shale to support the growth of forest vegetation. A research site on South Bison Hill (SBH), a shale overburden dump at the Syncrude Canada Ltd. Mildred Lake Mine, has been used by researchers over the past decade to study the performance of a reclamation cover. This study was undertaken to improve the understanding of salt and moisture dynamics in the cover-shale system. In particular, the objective of this study was to develop an estimate of the net percolation rate through the cover soil and into the shale overburden. Stable isotope (ä2H and ä18O) measurements obtained from the pore water of soil samples were used to develop stable isotope profiles at various sampling locations along the slope and plateau of the SBH. Simulated profiles were then generated using 2D, finite element numerical modelling software and compared to the measured profiles. Model parameters were obtained from testing and the work of previous researchers. The model results revealed that the net percolation is greatest (32-50 mm/yr) for the plateau and mid-slope bench sample locations. Net percolation rates for sample locations on the slope were lower at 0-12 mm/yr. The results from the stable isotope modelling were utilized in a SO42- transport model to ascertain if calculated net percolation rates could explain measured salinity profiles. This modelling exercise revealed that calculated SO42- profiles are highly dependent on the assumed SO42- production rates in the shale, which is primarily attributed to pyrite oxidation. The model results showed the isotope-based net percolation rates could explain the measured SO42-profiles for a reasonable range SO42- production rates. The SO42- production rates calculated in the model were greatest for the plateau and mid-slope bench locations and lesser for the sloped locations. The model also showed that the mass of SO42- removed by interflow was minimal compared to the mass generated by pyrite oxidation and that net percolation is the dominant flushing mechanism at net percolation rates of 8 mm/yr or more.



advection, diffusion, sulphate, stable isotopes, oil sands



Master of Engineering (M.Eng.)


Civil and Geological Engineering


Civil and Geological Engineering


Part Of